Assimilation as an Answer to Anti-Semitism ?

Throughout most socialist literature about Jews there is a judgemental attitude which suggests that Jewish people should assimilate in order to avoid anti-semitism. For instance, Lenin quoted Kautsky with approval, in relation to Russian Jews:

"Hostility towards non-native sections of the population can only be eliminated when the non-native sections cease to be alien and blend with the general mass of the population. This is the only possible solution to the Jewish question" (The Position of the Bund in the Party).

The modern Left crudely repeats this. Nigel Ward in an article in Socialist Challenge gave as one explanation for the holocaust the fact that Jews in Western Europe were not "assimilated into the fabric of Western society" (2.10.82). Big Flame took this one step further when it claimed that Jews were attacked as they were "visibly different" (September 1982).

This advice that Jews should assimilate in order to avoid 'pogroms' is startlingly reactionary for various reasons, some of which are examined later. For the time being, it is merely necessary to point out that the Left echoes the Jewish establishment, which also advocates assimilation as a way of avoiding political struggles against anti-semitism. Indeed, the Left is articulating a position which is almost identical to the 'aspects' of zionism that it attacks with the most vehemence. Thus zionism is seen as an avoidance of the necessity to fight against anti-semitism—but this is precisely what assimilationism is. Furthermore zionism is criticised for presupposing an 'eternal anti-semite' who cannot be confronted but must be by-passed through the creation of some form of national ghetto. In a sense, Lenin's position is even more extreme. He seems to believe in the eternal anti-semite whom Jews can neither confront nor avoid but can only satisfy by unbecoming Jewish.

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© 1984 Steve Cohen, edited and produced by Libby Lawson and Erica Bunnan.
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